Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Businesses denounce ‘fake news’ extortion in Baja California

A criminal gang is targeting business owners in Baja California and California with an extortion scam in which it threatens to spread fake news about them if they refuse to comply with its demands.

The newspaper Reforma reported today that a source close to the criminal investigation into the scheme had revealed that more than 100 business owners as well as professionals such as doctors and lawyers in Tijuana, Rosarito and San Diego have reported being targeted.

Mexican authorities as well as the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are investigating the scam, Reforma said.

The extortion racket allegedly operates by demanding an initial payment and subsequent monthly payments from those it targets.

The demands come with the threat that non-compliance will result in false information — that they have criminal records for drug trafficking, weapons offenses, robbery or other crimes — being disseminated online.

At least six people are believed to have been involved in carrying out of the scheme including the gang’s suspected leader, identified as José Santiago N., who was arrested last weekend, Reforma said.

He had allegedly disseminated phony information about business owners and politicians on a website masquerading as an online newspaper called Noticias de México.

The source close to the case told Reforma that the extortionists also tell business owners that they will target their families and assets if they don’t succumb to their demands.

The source added that that it was possible that the criminals were obtaining information about their targets from social media as “they mention the names of family and friends, the schools of their children and other details.”

Preliminary investigations into the modus operandi of the extortion racket indicate that its members initially contact their targets, presumably via email, and offer to sell them online advertising.

The targets are left with a telephone number to call should they be interested in the service offered.

The telephone numbers of those who call a purported advertising agency are recorded and passed on to the extortionists who then begin their scam.

If the targets don’t immediately comply, fake news about them, including videos, is published online on phony news websites and social media until they cave in.

Investigations into the racket indicate that some of its members operate the fraudulent websites, others identify future targets and one person is responsible for making the fake news videos.

The criminal group has also allegedly planned to target customs personnel in Tijuana.

The Reforma source said that investigators have obtained filmed statements in which former accomplices of the extortion racket have detailed its activities and links to organized crime.

Source: Reforma (sp) 

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